Re: [xmca] operation, action, activity

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Wed Jul 06 2005 - 13:43:06 PDT

Yes, Eric, there are better, more inclusive yet succinct statements. But I
really need others to help find them
and post them. At this point we can't send people to read whole articles,
but strategic pieces that people
have near their finger tips are shareable. You might go to<>and look at the 1977 book and search
on a pair of words from what I posted and get a fuller picture. I dared not
post more.

Does anyone have, from Engestrom's book or the Leontiev article in Wertsch,
or....... a succinct statement of
the three level struclture of activivity a la Leontiev and if so would you
please post?

On 7/6/05, <> wrote:
> Mike;
> That is quite a tidy little package to unpack. Those individual units of
> activity also combine to form the gestalt of the work goal. But I am still
> confused because in the quote Leontiev refers to actions and operations and
> then at the very end he is stating that analysis should revolve around the
> unit of activity. The units of activity that Leontiev refers to are indeed
> what need to be studied when analyzing the development of a person's work
> (insert academic) skills, but do operations and actions combine to form the
> unit of activity? And finally, how does the interplay of culture decide that
> new worker's competence?
> eric
> *Mike Cole <>*
> Sent by:
> 07/06/2005 08:28 AM MST
> Please respond to mcole
> To: Mike Cole <>, "eXtended Mind, Culture, and Activity" <
> cc:
> bcc:
> Subject: [xmca] operation, action, activity
> Eric-- I have been remiss in not finding a statement by Leontiev about
> levels. There may be better ones. I found this
> at * <>* where two Leontiev texts are
> available. There are probably better statements, but this is what I had
> time to grab. Others might do better. If you think about the example in
> this passage in terms of your last * <>* might
> be helpful.
> mike
> There is frequently no difference between the terms action and operation.
> In the context of psychological analysis of activity, however,
> distinguishing between them is absolutely necessary. Actions, as has already
> been said, are related to goals, operations to conditions. Let us assume
> that the goal remains the same; conditions in which it is assigned, however,
> change. Then it is specifically and only the operational content of the
> action that changes.
> In especially visual form, the non coincidence of action and operation
> appears in actions with tools. Obviously, a tool is a material object in
> which are crystallized methods and operations, and not actions or goals. For
> example, a material object may be physically taken apart by means of various
> tools each of which determines the method of carrying out the given action.
> Under certain conditions, let us say, an operation of cutting will be more
> adequate, in others, an operation of sawing; it is assumed here that man
> knows how to handle the corresponding tools, the knife, the saw, etc. The
> matter is essentially the same in more complex cases. Let us assume that a
> man was confronted with the goal of graphically representing some kind of
> dependences that he had discovered. In order to do this, he must apply one
> method or another of constructing graphs he must realize specific
> operation, and for this he must know how to do them. In this case it makes
> no difference how or under what circumstances or using which material he
> learned how to do these operations; something else is important
> specifically, that the formulation of the operation proceeds entirely
> differently from the formulation of the goal, that is, the initiation of
> action.
> Actions and operations have various origins, various dynamics, and various
> fates. Their genesis lies in the relationships of exchange of activities;
> every operation, however, is the result of a transformation of action that
> takes place as a result of its inclusion in another action and its
> subsequent "technization." A simpler illustration of this process may be the
> formation of an operation, the performance of which, for example, requires
> driving a car. Initially every operation, such as shifting gears, is formed
> as an action subordinated specifically to this goal and has its own
> conscious "orientational basis" (P. Ya. Gal'perin). Subsequently this action
> is included in another action, which has a complex operational composition
> in the action, for example, changing the speed of the car. Now shifting
> gears becomes one of the methods of attaining the goal, the operation that
> effects the change in speed, and shifting gears now ceases to be
> accomplished as a specific goal-oriented process: Its goal is not isolated.
> For the consciousness of the driver, shifting gears in normal circumstances
> is as if it did not exist. He does something else: He moves the car from a
> place, climbs steep grades, drives the car fast, stops at a given place,
> etc. Actually this operation may, as is known, be removed entirely from the
> activity of the driver and be carried out automatically. Generally, the fate
> of the operation sooner or later becomes the function of the machine.
> Nonetheless, an operation does not in any way constitute any kind of
> "separateness," in relation to action, just as is the case with action in
> relation to activity. Even when an operation is carried out by a machine, it
> still realizes the action of the subject. In a man who solves a problem with
> a calculator, the action is not interrupted at this extracerebral link; it
> finds in it its realization just as. it does in its other links. Only a
> "crazy" machine that has escaped from man's domination can carry out
> operations that do not realize any kind of goal-directed action of the
> subject.
> Thus in the total flow of activity that forms human life, in its higher
> manifestations mediated by psychic reflection, analysis isolates separate
> (specific) activities in the first place according to the criterion of
> motives that elicit them. Then actions are isolated processes that are
> subordinated to conscious goals, finally, operations that directly depend on
> the conditions of attaining concrete goals.
> The "units" of human activity also form its macrostructure. The special
> feature of the analysis that serves to isolate them is that it does so not
> by means of breaking human activity up into elements but by disclosing its
> characteristic internal relations. These are the relations that conceal
> transformations that occur as activity develops. Objects themselves can
> become stimuli, goals, or tools only in a system of human activity; deprived
> of connections within this system they lose their existence as stimuli,
> goals, or tools. For example, a tool considered apart from a goal becomes
> the same kind of abstraction as an operation considered apart from the
> action that it realizes.
> Investigation of activity requires an analysis specifically of its
> internal systemic connections.
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